WITH people focusing on the storm whipped up by President Rodrigo Duterte’s naming of five generals, two of them retired, as having links with the illegal drugs trade, only few people noticed the entry into the Philippine area of responsibility (PAR) of typhoon Butchoy (international name, Nepartak). It didn’t help that Butchoy may not hit land as it heads for Taiwan tomorrow, which means that its effect would be limited to intensifying southwest monsoon rains.
It’s not that Butchoy is not as devastating as the storm Duterte churned with his “shame campaign.” Out there in the Philippine Sea, Butchoy’s sustained winds are blowing at 220 kilometers per hour, which is fairly strong. Imagine the kind of damage it would have wrought on the areas it would have passed had it made landfall in the country. So we should thank God and our lucky stars that the second typhoon to hit us this year spared us from its wrath.
By the way, “Nepartak” is a word originating from the Federated States of Micronesia and refers to a warrior there. It is a contribution of Micronesia to the prepared list of names that is used to identify every typhoon formed yearly. This is actually the third time that the name was attached to a typhoon. The first typhoon Nepartak hit the Philippines and China in 2003, the second, which did not make a landfall, was named to a typhoon formed in 2009.
While Butchoy is the second typhoon to hit this the country after we experienced the long dry spell spawned by El Niño, it is the first for the Duterte administration, which took over power on June 30. The President has been shaking up the national government bureaucracy since he assumed office and I don’t know what he is doing with the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), a pet organization of former president Noynoy Aquino.
Duterte, though, has inherited a vastly improved disaster preparedness regimen from Aquino. After the devastating storms that hit the country in Aquino’s first year in office, he focused, bordering on being obsessed, with improving the forecast capability of the local weather bureau Pagasa (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, Astronomical Services Administration) by revamping the organization and providing its personnel with better pay and equipment and placing it under the supervision of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).
The Aquino administration followed that up by conceiving Project NOAH (Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards), which harnesses the DOST’s “technologies and management services” for disaster risk reduction efforts. As a result, we now have a surfeit of information about, say, rainfall, thunderstorms and possible storm surges and landslide sites. The forecasting capability of local weathermen has been successfully tested in the storms that entered the PAR.
I don’t know how Duterte’s people will handle the legacy of the Aquino administration in terms of disaster risk reduction and management, what happened during super typhoon Yolanda in 2013 notwithstanding. (The consensus by the international community was that Yolanda, considered among the strongest typhoons in history, can be considered an aberration.) I am hopeful, however, because Duterte so far is continuing the good policies of his predecessor.
That hope depends, however, on whether he has put the right officials to handle this very sensitive area of governance or has retained the people placed there by Aquino to ensure continuity. The test to that would come in the days and weeks to come as we feel the effects of an intensifying La Niña.
(email@example.com/ twitter: @khanwens)